By LOUIS FLORES
Dozens of New Yorkers showed up to a town hall meeting held by Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) at Public School 69 on Thursday evening in Jackson Heights, Queens.
But these dozens were forced to stand inside a make-shift police pen outside P.S. 69, to wait to see if municipal employees could accommodate them inside.
At least five municipal staff paced outside P.S. 69 with iPads, like they do at Apple stores, checking people's names on a reservation list that would determine if the New Yorkers would be allowed to attend the town hall meeting.
Contrary to a previous report published by Progress Queens (subsequently corrected), the town hall meeting turned out not to be open to everybody. Attendees had to apply for a reservation with the office of Councilmember Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who would then pre-approve attendees, in order to screen out any critics of the de Blasio administration. A request was made via e-mail by the publisher of Progress Queens to Councilmember Dromm, seeking a reservation. After that request was never answered, the publisher of Progress Queens carried a protest sign outside the site of the town hall, drawing attention to the restrictive policies in effect on town hall attendees.
Using metal barricades, police officers set up three holding pens outside P.S. 69, one for the sole protester, one for people with confirmed reservations, and one for everyone else.
For over a year, Mayor de Blasio has faced political crises related to the deaths of New York Police Department officers, the deaths of innocent New Yorkers at the hands of NYPD officers, protests related to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the big business community, which some say are trying to undermine the mayor's agenda. Consequently, Mayor de Blasio's job approval ratings have progressively dropped, culminating in a new City Hall media strategy that wants to stage heavily-managed events with guaranteed optics.
Hearing of the need to have a confirmed R.S.V.P., many New Yorkers gave up trying to get into the town hall and just abandoned their places on the waiting line. In spite of the numbers of people, who had left the stand-by line, when the NY1 cable news channel political reporter Grace Rauh recorded part of her report of the town hall, she was able to use a long line of New Yorkers waiting on stand-by as a backdrop for her broadcast report.
According to attendees, who had reservations and were, thus, able to attend the Town Hall, but who departed early, the town hall reached the capacity of the auditorium of PS 69. Some attendees, who could not be accommodated in the auditorium, were herded into a spare room with a television feed of the town hall, but the attendees in this overflow room were not provided a microphone with which to ask Mayor de Blasio questions.
At one point, 77 WABC Radio talk show host Curtis Sliwa stood in line with New Yorkers trying to get into Mayor de Blasio's town hall, but the municipal staff with their iPads strenuously avoided the instantly-recognisable media personality.
Conversation amongst the New Yorkers, who were forced to wait on stand-by outside, turned critical of Mayor de Blasio and the conditions of the town hall, a summary of which follows.
One senior citizen complained to an NYPD officer that it was unfair to keep senior citizens standing outside. Several adults, who walked passed P.S. 69 Thursday evening, stopped to ask questions about the heavy NYPD presence, the presence of several media vans, and the use of police barricades outside of a public school. When the publisher of Progress Queens explained that Mayor de Blasio was holding a town hall meeting at P.S. 69, many individuals complained that their children attended P.S. 69, but the school administration hadn't informed them about the mayor's town hall. Unfortunately, the publisher of Progress Queens had to explain to the disappointed parents that Councilmember Dromm had required an R.S.V.P. from town hall attendees, from which he would screen attendees based on the degree of their political support for Mayor de Blasio.
Some of the mayor's dissidents, not allowed in, collected in one part of the sidewalk outside of P.S. 69. In their conversation, four men questioned Mayor de Blasio's and Councilmember Dromm's paranoia-based need to go to extremes to control the town hall attendees. Their conversation turned speculative. One of the mayor's critics predicted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-New York) was actively taking steps to undercut Mayor de Blasio's standing with the public, so that a Republican candidate could win the mayoralty in 2017. A companion of the critic noted, with irony, that Gov. Cuomo's political hand was made stronger last year after having received the electoral endorsement of the Working Families Party, a key supporter of Mayor de Blasio's political base. A second companion said it was ironic that Mayor de Blasio was screening average New Yorkers out of his town hall, when the person Mayor de Blasio really had to fear was Gov. Cuomo.
Amongst Mayor de Blasio's critics outside P.S. 69 were supporters of the NYPD, who expressed criticism of Mayor de Blasio's brief but failed attempt to bring reforms to the troubled police department. Between these critics, it was said that although the media focus has been on the political pressure facing Mayor de Blasio from advocates for police reform and supporters of the NYPD, the media narrative has largely ignored how Mayor de Blasio's police commissioner, William Bratton, has managed to keep news about police misconduct out of the press with much better success than the police commissioners of former mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudolph Giuliani.(*)
Before the town hall concluded, a light, but steady rain began to fall, sending the remainder of New Yorkers waiting outside P.S. 69 scattering for cover. NYPD officers kept watch on the main entrance to the school, even as no more people remained in the stand-by line, allowing other police officers to disassemble the three holding pens.
(*) Updated to reflect a meaningful conversation about the lack of media scrutiny on NYPD Commissioner William Bratton.